How to Make Friends with a Dog
Some years ago I watched, with some trepidation as a small child danced up to a tethered Jack Russell and struck it playfully on the head.
As the very proud owner of two lovely Jackies at the time, I winced as the dog did what I would expect anything but the most placid of mutts to do. It bit her.
It wasn’t a savage bite, it was a warning nip, but the parents were understandably horrified, and the child’s wails of distress were evidence of what might be the start of a lifelong fear of dogs .
Upsetting for everyone but an avoidable incident if the parents had trained their child to never rapidly approach a dog, particularly a tethered, one with such presumption.
My dogs loved kids, but if a child approached, I always warned the child they should check with an owner before introducing themselves to any dog. Dogs have savage teeth and strong instincts, and if you don’t know their history, you really can’t tell how happy they are to have their space invaded.
Reaching out towards a dog is putting pressure on them before they have had a chance to decide if you are safe. It’s a bit like rushing up to a stranger and flinging your arms about them. Most dogs, like humans, want to know what they are getting into before you get too close. At best it’s not polite. At worst it is just plain scary.
Both of my Jackies loved people and were generally happy with a direct approach, but some people freaked them out for no reason I could see. My little furry companions never had a bad experience in their lives with humans, but some dogs are not so lucky and if they get bitey to defend themselves, no one will come out of it well. It is better to stay safe.
Never shove your hand under a dog’s nose for a sniff. It’s a myth that this is a good introduction. Dogs can smell you without you forcing yourself on to them. If you want to show them that you are friendly, it’s better to wait and read the dog, much as it is reading you. Take your time.
Some dogs are never going to want to be your buddy. If that’s how it looks, back off. You don’t want to be friends with everyone, do you? It’s always disconcerting when an animal rejects you, but they, have some pride here. No need to beg.
A dog on the lead, has nowhere to go. A sensitive dog or one that has bad experiences with humans can get defensive. They may shy away or snap at you to cause you to step back. They can’t tell you that you are freaking them out, so they show you. Take note. You have been warned.
If you still want to make friends with dogs you meet and teach your kids how to be safe around dogs, here are some positive moves – particularly important in a place like Pembrokeshire where so many people are walking their dogs on the many lovely coastal paths, and dogs are running free on so many of our fabulous beaches
If meeting a dog for the first time with their owner, ask if it’s OK to interact with the pet. Better to get the human’s permission. They know their furry pal better than anyone and you can avoid giving offence to either and possibly spoiling your day.
Next step… no reaching out. Stand up, relax and keep your hands to yourself.
Initially, if the owner will chat, talk to them and ignore the dog. You should avoid staring at the dog. Remember, they are the ones with the teeth.
If they want to know you, they will have a good sniff, maybe stepping away and coming back a few times. If they butt you with their heads and rub against you with tails wagging, you may move on to a slow pat on the back.
Avoid their heads. If your gentle overtures are acceptable, you might then be allowed to be a new friend – and what could be better on a day out than making a new friend?